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New round of U.S. sanctions target Putin-connected oligarchs, officials

The Trump administration announced new sanctions to punish Russia for "malign activity" around the world, targeting 24 Russian government officials and tycoons. John Yang speaks to special correspondent Ryan Chilcote about what makes the latest round different from previous actions and whether they will put pressure on President Vladimir Putin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the Trump administration's latest sanctions against Russia.

    John Yang has that.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, to explain these new sanctions against 17 Russian government officials and seven of Russia's richest men, we turn to special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, reporting tonight from London.

    Ryan, thanks for joining us.

    What makes these sanctions different from the sanctions that are already in place?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, these sanctions are very hard-hitting

    And in contrast to the sanctions we have seen before, these go after some Russian billionaires specifically and exclusively for their ties — or at least they appear to — exclusively for their ties to President Vladimir Putin.

    So in the past, the Trump administration, the Obama administration has sought to have a link between a specific event, whether it's the annexation of Crimea, whether it was fighting in the Eastern Ukraine, and the individual they were sanctioning.

    But in this case, it's proximity to the Kremlin. Another change is that very early on we saw what they called sectoral sanctions. Sectors of the Russian economy were sort of sanctioned to try and put pressure on those sectors, the oil industry. In this case, very targeted, going after people that, at least in Washington, D.C., they think are close to President Putin.

  • John Yang:

    Some of these people that are close to President Putin, tell us about them. What are some of the names that jump off the list at you?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, Oleg Deripaska is definitely top of the list, the most interesting of the individuals that has been sanctioned. He is worth about $7 billion.

    He has global business interests. He is well-known in the United States as having a business relationship with Paul Manafort. Many people in the U.S. suspect that he may have acted as some kind of intermediary between the Trump administration and the Kremlin. He has denied that. So, he's definitely interesting, big-time businessman.

    Viktor Vekselberg, another, worth about $16 billion, former oil man, also in the metals industry. Interesting choice, because in some ways, he's been behind the drive more recently to diversify the Russian economy away from oil and gas. He's a huge fan of the United States. He's a big investor in Silicon Valley, and he's been trying to kind of help Russia with his money turn the corner from being a petrodollar state, if you will.

    So, interesting that he has been targeted. Again, of course, the idea is that he's somehow close to President Putin. And, finally, the third person I would point out of the two dozen would be Kirill Shamalov. He is the former son-in-law of Vladimir Putin. I say former because he was married to Vladimir Putin's daughter, one of his daughters, but they are now divorced.

    And the Treasury is saying that he effectively benefited from that marriage, and because of that and the proximity to the Russian president, he should be sanctioned.

  • John Yang:

    How likely are these sanctions to succeed to actually change Putin's behavior?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    I don't think they're very likely to succeed in changing Vladimir Putin's behavior at all.

    There was a very interesting comment from the Russian president's spokesman the other day, where he said, oligarch sanctions? What oligarch sanctions? We don't have oligarchs in Russia.

    In one sense, that sounds laughable, that he's making light of this, but in fact there is some truth in what he's saying. There are no real oligarchs in the sense that there are people that can exercise power or influence on Vladimir Putin. Russian billionaires, Russian oligarchs, if you want the call them, that they may enjoy their wealth at the pleasure of President Putin, if you will, but they can't force him to change his behavior.

    And so the idea of putting sanctions on them will — and they get upset and then go to President Putin to say, you know, don't do X, I don't think that's going to work.

  • John Yang:

    On the one hand, you have got these new sanctions. On the other, you have President Trump calling Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his election, talking about inviting him to the White House for a summit. What message is this sending the Russians?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    In the Kremlin, they decided along time ago that President Trump is politically impotent, as the Russian prime minister put it once.

    They believe that all of these actions he's taking against Russia are because he has to, because of political pressure that's being exerted on him. And they see that despite their hopes and their confidence in President Trump, they see that the relationship is on a downward spiral, and that definitely is not something that they're very happy about.

    That said, they are hopeful that, at some point, you know, politics is a crazy thing, maybe he will have more power and he will be able to, if not improve the relationship, stop its deterioration.

  • John Yang:

    Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote from London, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Pleasure.

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